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Probable Cause for Vehicle Stops

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protections you from unlawful searches and seizures. What this means is that any searches performed without a warrant are unconstitutional, and therefore any seized property cannot be used against you. However, when it comes to vehicle stops, there are exceptions to this rule, of which many Albuquerque residents are unaware.

Exemptions for Vehicle Stops

In most instances, law enforcement must have a signed warrant from a judge before performing a search and seizure. However, there are exceptions to this rule, one of which involves traffic stops.

There are two instances in which a judge may deem a traffic stop search and seizure legal: If the owner of the vehicle gives permission for the search, and if the officer has probable cause to search the vehicle. The first reason is self-explanatory — a driver either gives permission or he or she does not. The second is often up for interpretation.

If you do not consent to the search of your vehicle, an officer must arrest you before performing an investigation of your person or your car. However, to make a lawful arrest, the officer must have probable cause that you committed a crime. If the officer has probable cause, he or she may search your car or truck and your body to find evidence related to his or her reason for arresting you in the first place.

Establishing the Validity of the Search

The validity of a search and seizure during a routine traffic stop is dependent upon two main factors:

  • The reasons the officer stopped you in the first place, and
  • Whether or not the circumstances of the stop provide the exemptions necessary to negate the need for a warrant.

The courts will also consider the officer’s need to act in haste. For instance, if the officer suspected his or her or another’s safety or wellbeing was at risk, the courts may forgive his or her decision to act immediately.

Legality of Vehicle Stops and Vehicle Searches

Albuquerque officers must have a valid reason for both stopping you and searching your vehicle. Without a legal reason for both, any evidence the officer gathers during the stop will be deemed inadmissible in court.

When it comes to the traffic stop itself, the officer must have reasonable suspicion or actual proof that you violated a traffic law. Reasonable suspicion or proof may include swerving, running a red light, speeding or driving far below the speed limit, just to name a few examples.

As explained above, if the officer wants to perform a search, he or she must have probable cause to do so. Excessive speeding or blatant violations of traffic signals do not constitute as probable cause. Aggression, belligerence or an open container in the vehicle, however, do.

Get Legal Help for an Unlawful Stop

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for law enforcement officers to abuse their positions of power. If you believe you are the victim of an unlawful vehicle stop and seizure, contact Simon A. Kubiak, Attorneys At Law, PC, to discuss the circumstances of your case and possible defenses more in depth. Call our law firm at (505) 998-6600 today.

When you get cited, we go fight it!

Contact us Today

If you have questions about our legal services, feel free to get in touch with us right away. We quickly respond to all calls because we understand there is little time for delay when it comes to getting you the representation you need. For your convenience, we also have Spanish-speaking attorneys.


Suite 1A, 1121 4th Street NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102